Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Comfort: Dependence For Deliverance

Have you been treated unfairly by someone who really did not know or understand your circumstance? The Corinthian church gave up on Paul. Not only did they write him off, but they discredited his ministry. He said he would come and he didn't, so they called him a false teacher. Who does Paul think he is, anyway?

What they did not know is that Paul was delayed in coming, and not merely delayed but nearly died.  Look at what he writes: “Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver [us], you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift [granted] to us through many.” [2Co 1:9-11 NKJV]

Paul shows a great amount of grace in the face of misunderstanding, even calling his critics alongside to pray for him! How could he do this?

First, Paul depended upon the God of life (1:9). While in the face of death, his hope rested in the God of life. One who can raise the dead is the only hope of a man who is doomed to die. If you ever feel like your troubles are overwhelming, remember God’s great power. He can be depended upon.

Second, Paul was delivered by the God of life (1:10–11). Notice what he says about deliverance. He speaks of God’s deliverance in the past (“who delivered us from so great a death”) of God’s present deliverance (“and does deliver us”)  and of the deliverance to come (“He will still deliver us”).

The comfort for us: the same God who delivered you from the penalty of sin in the past is able to deliver you day by day, and will continue to deliver you until that final moment when we will be completely released from everything this world has to offer.

These are reasons why we study the Bible, because when trouble comes, we have a bulwark against the waves of doubt that rage against our fragile houses of faith.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Comfort For The Disappointed and Depressed

It’s OK to be disappointed and depression should have its run but both are not meant to be dwelling places. God does not intend for us to stay “down.” The Corinthian church was disappointed with the apostle Paul because he said he would come visit and he did not show up. Sadly, they held his absence against him.  What they did not know is the reason Paul did not come when he said he would. Paul wrote them:

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” [2 Co 1:8-11 ESV]

We don’t have many details about Paul’s delay, but here’s what we do know. The Philips translation reads, “we were completely overwhelmed; the burden was more than we could bear; in fact we told ourselves that this was the end.”  
  • “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength,” In other words, he was depressed by the experience.
  • “we despaired even of life.” He was in despair, at a loss, out of resources.
  • we had the sentence of death in ourselves” If you could ask Paul how things are going to turn out in the midst of his experience, he would have answered with two words: “we die.”
Did you notice in verse 11 that Paul asks for the prayers of those who have misunderstood the situation? Instead of letting disappointment and depression divide their relationship, he called them alongside to help.  He showed them grace because he knew they did not have enough information.

Are you entering the New Year disappointed with someone? Do you have a clear understanding as to “why”? What can you do to come alongside and help?

Start the New Year learning from Paul’s example to overcome depression and disappointment:
  •  Choose the Lord--set Him before you (Psalm 16:8)
  • Change your company (Ps 1:1-3)
  • Confess your sin (Ps 32:1-3)
  • Carry Out God’s Commands (James 1:22-25)
  • Crucify the Flesh (Gal 5:24)
  • Consider the truth: believe God (Ro 15:13)
  • Contain the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52)
  • Communicate Joy (Prov. 15:32)
  • Comfort others (2 Cor 1)

Friday, December 26, 2014

"The Shepherd Speaks" by John Erskine

Out of the midnight sky a great dawn broke,
And a voice singing flooded us with song.
In David's city was he born, it sang,
A Saviour, Christ the Lord. Then while I sat
Shivering with the thrill of that great cry,
A mighty choir a thousand-fold more sweet
Suddenly sang, Glory to God, and Peace—
Peace on the earth; my heart, almost unnerved
By that swift loveliness, would hardly beat.
Speechless we waited till the accustomed night
Gave us no promise more of sweet surprise;
Then scrambling to our feet, without a word
We started through the fields to find the Child.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"A Christmas Carol" by James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)

"What means this glory round our feet,"
The Magi mused, "more bright than morn?"
And voices chanted clear and sweet,
"To-day the Prince of Peace is born!"

"What means that star," the Shepherds said,
"That brightens through the rocky glen?"
And angels, answering overhead,
Sang, "Peace on earth, good-will to men!"

'Tis eighteen hundred years and more
Since those sweet oracles were dumb;
We wait for Him, like them of yore;
Alas, He seems so slow to come!

But it was said, in words of gold,
No time or sorrow e'er shall dim,
That little children might be bold
In perfect trust to come to Him.

All round about our feet shall shine
A light like that the wise men saw,
If we our loving wills incline
To that sweet Life which is the Law.

So shall we learn to understand
The simple faith of shepherds then,
And, clasping kindly hand in hand,
Sing, "Peace on earth, good-will to men!"

But they who do their souls no wrong,
But keep at eve the faith of morn,
Shall daily hear the angel-song,
"To-day the Prince of Peace is born!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

“Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes"

“Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,

This bird of dawning singeth all night long;

And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,

The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.”

-- Marcellus to Horatio and Bernardo, after seeing the Ghost, Hamlet, Act I, Scene I (William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


It was frosty the other morning and the rising sun reflected off our neighbor's house into the yard. As the sun rose higher, the reflection melted a tracing line through the frost . . . much like God's light and love cutting through our cold, hard hearts.

Monday, December 22, 2014

"Before the Paling of the Stars"

Before the winter morn,
Before the earliest cock crow,
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world his hands had made
Born a stranger.

Priest and king lay fast asleep
In Jerusalem;
Young and old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem;
Saint and angel, ox and ass,
Kept a watch together
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.

Jesus on his mother's breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless lamb of God was he,
Shepherd of the fold:
Let us kneel with Mary maid,
With Joseph bent and hoary,
With saint and angel, ox and ass,
To hail the King of Glory.

-- by Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Friday, December 19, 2014

"You shouldn't celebrate Christmas."

Objection: Christmas is a pagan holiday. There is nothing in the Bible that says we must observe Jesus birthday.


Our culture is pagan saturated so unless we change everything, why select this one day above all? Should we revert to the Puritan system and identify the days of the week by their number (First day, Second day, etc) instead of using pagan names? For example, today is named "Torsdag" or "Thor's day" (Norse) while the Romans called it "deis Jovis" or Jove's day.

Why do we use solar months to measure time when the Hebrew calendar is lunar? Why do we name the 12th month on our calendar December when "decem" is Latin for 10 and what should we do when January rolls around (named after Janus, god of endings and beginnings)?

The Bible is silent about a number of things. You know, there is nothing in the Bible that says Jesus took a bath, nor does He instruct his disciples to take one. Yes, he does wash their feet--once . . .

There are plenty of commands and instructions about giving Him one day out of seven. How are you doing with that?

The main reason our family celebrates Christmas is out of gratitude. In the same way I wish other family and friends "happy birthday" (out of love), we want to acknowledge what our God and Savior did for us, by stepping in to time and space in order to save the repentant from sin.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Comforting Words: "Move That Bus!"

"If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort." [2 Co 1:6-7 ESV]

The Corinthian church was in a bit of an uproar, experiencing extreme levels of discomfort so Paul offers words of consolation that have grown out of his own experience. Though he is an example of suffering and comfort, don’t take for granted that Paul’s example came easy for his personal comfort came at a great price.

Think of what it takes to remodel, that messy transformation process that changes a house or office, upgrading the original design. Remodeling is not clean, easy, or cheap. There will always be noise and dust--but in order to bring in the new, the old must be removed. This means we must be ready to give up our best-laid plans when Jesus uses you and me to build up His children and His church.

When our lives and routines are upset by the architect, the master builder  is stripping away the old, replacing with the new: old habits must go, replaced with His truths. The beginning of every remodeling project begins with brokenness, when all stability is suddenly torn apart.  Perspective is what is most needed here, so that we see through the eyes of the builder, the designer. He holds the blueprints.

Paul knew that his suffering was not without purpose: it was for the building of the church, who in turn experienced suffering of its own. In the same way God gives us experiences so we can comfort someone else in His name in a way that nobody else can. You know, I can’t minister to someone who has lost a child, but someone else can. You may not be able to sit with someone who has wrestled with substance abuse, but I can.

What is broken in your life right now?
What is He removing in order to bring in what is better?
What is being destroyed in order for Him to rebuild?

Are you ready for Him to “move that bus?”

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Purpose of Suffering and Comfort (part 3): The Seven Fruits

Have you ever thought of suffering and comfort as two elements that work together in your life to produce something good, something fruitful? Notice what Paul writes concerning comfort to the Corinthians church: the comfort your receive is not for you to keep. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor 1:3-4)

The more God comforts us, the more we can comfort others. Adrian Rogers said “we are more like God when we encourage and more like the devil when we don’t.” There are seven kinds of fruit to share from the harvest of suffering:

1. Suffering makes us seek either God’s face or turn away. Notice the contrast: Ahaz became unfaithful to God in his distress (1 Chron. 28:22) while Manasseh humbled himself before God while in affliction (2 Chron. 33:12).

2. Suffering helps us experience Christ. Paul wrote to Philippi “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Phil. 3:10) Think for a moment about your spiritual desires:
  • Do you want to know Christ? (Yes!)
  • Do you want to know the power of His resurrection? (Of course!)
  • Do you want the fellowship of His suffering? (How about two out of three?) 
We want to know Jesus and his resurrection power but who likes the taste of slow death? If you feel rejected, alone and/or mistreated, remember that Jesus, Paul and Timothy experienced the same. If you want to know Him, know that God uses suffering to make us like Jesus by giving small tastes of His sufferings.

3. Suffering exposes Sin. Faith does not mix with unbelief. God comforts us in Christ by His victory over temptation and sin. We have a way out because Jesus experienced temptation as we do, yet did not sin.

4. Suffering Exhibits His Fruit, giving us opportunity to show Jesus to others. Look at Matt 5:13-14. Now answer these questions: 
  • What is the follower of Christ to the world? 
  • What is the context of being salt and light? (see Matthew 5:10-12)
5. Suffering Engages the Body of Christ to Activity. (1 Cor 12:26), “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” Suffering causes the the body of Christ to draw closer in meaningful ways. In other words, suffering ensures we are not building our own church, in our own name.

6. Suffering Equips Us For Ministry (see our key verse, above --2 Cor 1:3-4)

7. Suffering Elevates our Hope of Heaven. “Blessed [is] the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." (James 1:12)

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Evolution (or Creation?) of the Slow Loris

According to this article, the Slow Loris "kills by either biting with its mouth full of poison, or slicking its fur up with the toxin and waiting to be attacked. To be fair to the critter, its venom was probably developed for self-defense. Although it occasionally uses the venom to kill its prey, it is happiest just being left alone."

I have some questions. 

  1. If the tenant of evolution is "survival of the fittest," then how long did it take for the Loris overcome its weaknesses and survive in order to figure out how to "probably" develop to be a venomous (or is it a poisonous) primate? 
  2. What took place in evolution for the Loris not to be allergic to it's own spit? 
  3. Why can't scientists precisely identify the biological function of the secretion? 
Science (Latin for "know) will confirm what is known, without speculating to probabilities, which are unknown. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Purpose of Suffering and Comfort (part 2)

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too." [2 Co 1:3-5 ESV]

Have you noticed that when we suffer and receive comfort from God that our problems do not vanish? If God made difficulty disappear, we would only go to Him for pain relief.

Meister Eckhart (1260?-1327?) said, “Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love Him as they love their cow--for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort. They do not rightly love God, when they love Him for their own advantage. Indeed, I tell you the truth, any object you have in your mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inmost Truth.”

Who can deny the deeper struggles we face when we have the wrong approach to God's comfort? We try to kill pain with substance that often becomes abused or we try to control the pain by hurting ourselves. Reality never retreats after a binge: the lights are still off, the refrigerator is still empty, the gas tank is still dry, your co-workers are still there, etc.

God is not making you “go through this.” He is loving you. The reason why God comforts us in our difficulty is so that we can love Him, not dull our senses. Receiving God’s love means we:

  • receive strength to deal with our troubles;
  • receive hope that our discomfort will become ease;
  • receive encouragement to deal with our troubles. 

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Purpose of Suffering and Comfort (part 1)

Adrian Rogers said that “Discouragement is a darkroom where the negatives of fear and failure develop.” How do we deal with suffering, hardships and not allow the feelings of fear and failure to develop? Bring in the light! This illustration draws it’s meaning from the old method of developing camera film in a blackened room. Any amount of  light destroyed the film negatives and the pictures would not develop--and this is exactly what we want to happen in this case! Destroy the negative! One way I do this is to be mindful that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.  

Paul writes, “For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Cor 1:5) See, there are different kinds of suffering and there are different kinds of comfort.

“First world” problems is not suffering. Most people of the world don’t get to say things like, “I’m tired of all the restaurants near my office” or “My laptop is dying and the charger is in the other room” or “I have more clothes than clothes hangers.” That’s not suffering.

There are daily hardships, those unexpected accidents, crime, job situations. There are prolonged illnesses, diseases. Then there are the people we live with; you know, the “human condition” that seems to keep us in frustration. Difficulties, yes; but, we can choose our response. 

But then there are what we will call “Gospel hardships” and these are the at the heart of Paul’s statement. Have you ever invested in someone only to have them reject that investment? Not simply money, but the time, the advice, the love--completely rejected. Paul equates specific suffering with the work of the ministry, pouring one’s self into others and they kick back. Preaching the gospel at the expense of your life, even.

The promise here is that the more we suffer in Christ, the more God comforts us in Christ. What makes this work is our obedience to Him.

Charles Spurgeon asked his congregation to picture in their mind a balancing scale: in one side God puts our trials and struggles; on the other side He places our comfort. When the scale of trial is nearly empty, the scale of consolation is just as empty; but when the scale of trouble is full, the scale of consolation is just as heavy.  As the suffering of Christ abounds, so also the consolation. 

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Problem With Camels

Genesis 12:16 reads ”And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.”

Many opponents of the Bible use this passage and say that the presence of camels is an anachronism, that domesticated camels did not appear in Israel until after the time of King David; therefore, the mention of camels in the time of Abram is incorrect.

When I visited the passage at “The Skeptics Annotated Bible” I found this statement in the margin:

In case you can't read it, the margin is “Camels were first domesticated in the tenth century BCE more than a thousand years before Abram supposedly lived.” Camels were domesticated BEFORE Abram? The biblical text has no problem with that.

The link provided by the site (above) directs us to Science Daily and a short article from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University. Here we find an analysis of archaeological digs that the writer says can pin-point the moment domesticated camels arrived in southern levant. The MOMENT. A few observations on the article:

First, the article is riddled with obscurity. The scientists are giving their best guess on a modern timeline. The word “probably” is used 3 times, so they don’t really know the moment domestication occurred, nor do they know what kind of camel bones they’ve found (wild or domesticated), nor do they know the exact origin of the camel.

Second, radiocarbon dating has always gives results in a range of time. It is never precise to the decade.

Third, the digs covered in this article were done in the Aravah Valley, near the border of what is marked in present day as Israel and Jordan. How does one valley provide proof of what the inhabitants of the whole Levant, a stretch of land stretching from Egypt to the Persian Gulf? I can’t help to say, “they’re digging in the wrong place.” Stay with me a moment.

Since there is overwhelming evidence that trade routes stretched from Africa to India and camels had to pass through Israel, then what do we do with Abraham’s camels? The first question for us to answer is “where did he get them?” This biblical passage tells us that Abram  left present-day Iraq, traveled north-west to Haran (the Turkey/Syrian border) then down to Egypt after passing through Canaan.

When Abram arrived in Egypt, Pharaoh found Abram’s wife appealing so Pharaoh took Abram’s wife to his house (Gen. 12:15). The next verse tells us that Abram received gifts from Pharaoh, one of which was camels. Abram did not have camels until Egypt.

Archaeology has produced a wide range of findings all over the Levant, including artwork and sculpture that pre-dates Abram. Here are two excellent resources that go deeper into the topic:

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Comforting Words (part 5): The God of All Comfort

Last time we explored “Three Reasons To Find Comfort In The Trinity.” Paul writes that God is to be praised because our God is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) The truth we investigate here is that God receives praise because of Who He is: The God of all comfort!  

The comfort Jesus received while ministering here on earth is the same comfort Paul received during his ministry and is the same we receive today because the Father loves His Son. Listen Zechariah prophesy over his son, John:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:76-79).

John’s life was explained by the Father of  Mercy. Did you see it? John will do all these things "because of the tender mercy of our God . . ." Realize also how the first mercy ministry of the church is connected to the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins found in Christ. 

The tender mercy of our God is really plural, "mercies." They are without number:

“I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy.” (Ps 5:7)

“Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the  multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.” (Ps 51:1)

“Yet in Your manifold mercies You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day, To lead them on the road; Nor the pillar of fire by night, To show them light, And the way they should go.” (Neh 9:19)

God gives us what we do not deserve. “[Through] the LORD's mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. [They are] new every morning; Great [is] Your  faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22)

I find great comfort to know that His mercy outnumbers, outweighs my sins.

His mercy explains my life. Does it, yours? 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Photoblog: Lyrics and The Morning Sun

"Sunlight dances through the leaves
Soft winds stir the sighing trees
Lying in the warm grass
Feel the sun upon your face . . ."

("Rivendell" by Rush)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Comforting Words (part 4): Three Reasons To Find Comfort In The Trinity

Do you know the scariest words of scripture? This may seem an odd question in light of the topic of comfort, but there is a connection.

Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (2 Cor. 1:3) Last post we learned that God is to be praised (and we receive comfort from) the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and we found ourselves with a hard question: “If Jesus has a God, how can Jesus be God?” This questions leads us to the second truth concerning the God of all comfort: He is praised because He is “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,”

The doctrine of the Trinity underscores God’s uniqueness above all other gods. Now “trinity” is not a word we find in the Bible, but the teaching is unmistakable. We worship a triune God, distinguished persons of Godhead but not divided in substance. Trinity does not mean there are three gods (tritheism) nor are there three “modes” of being. Trinity means three persons, one essence. Admittedly, this is difficult to illustrate because every analogy fails at some point--and how much greater is God than any analogy! Regardless, we find three eternal distinctions: The Son generates from the Father in eternal “now” (Ps. 2 “Thou art my son, today I have begotten Thee.”) and The Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son (Jn 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”)

Here are three reasons we can find comfort in the Trinity:

First, love always flows among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” (Jn 3:35) Know that you are loved with eternal love that existed before creation.

Second, God has made Himself known. God the Father sent God the Son who sent God the Spirit (the Comforter) to empower His children to “be” and “do” His perfect will. He gives us all we need for life and godliness;

Finally, God paid our sin-debt. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Ro 5:8) The Father sent His perfect Son to die a substitutionary death for sin and was raised by His Spirit. Faith in His finished work frees us the penalty and power of sin.

Now, the scariest words in scripture: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” [Jn 15:22 ESV]

Let that sink in for a moment: "If I had not come . . ." That is terrifying.

“The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is not a limited, forgetful, weak, impersonal force but self-conscious, self-determined, a person who relates to mankind with family devotion. 1 John 3 describes two kinds of families: children of God (free from the penalty/power of sin) and children of the devil (those who are not free from the penalty/power of sin). Paul wrote to the Ephesians (5:8) distinguishing between the children of light and children of darkness. Because of Jesus Christ we can call God “Father” and approach Him as His children. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is our Father. God sees us in His Son and loves us as He loves His Son (John 17:23). We are “beloved of God” (Rom. 1:7) because we are “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6).

Maybe you are quietly suffering today, wondering, “where is the joy?” Remember the angelic words to the Shepherds: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. . . .” Joy is Christmas joy: not about shopping and gifts or “let is snow.” Joy is “let us worship” the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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